The nationwide strike embarked by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) on Monday crippled medical services in all government owned hospitals as most patients on admission were hurriedly discharged.
Also on Monday, outpatients remained unattended and were turned back after several hours of waiting.
At the National Hospital Abuja, for instance, outpatients who turned up for medical treatment as early as 7. am were disappointed that none were attended to.
The JOHESU leaders paraded from one office to the other, from ward to ward to ensure none of their members were engaged in any work.
They ensured total compliance with the national directives on the strike. They had insisted that since Doctors had been attended by the federal government, they deserved to be attended too.
This is even as the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire appealed to them on Monday during a briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, to return to work.
While noting that the call is necessary in view of the pandemic, the Minister asked the striking workers to sheathe their sword and come to the negotiation table.
“I use this opportunity to appeal to JOHESU to suspend their industrial action and go into negotiation,” he said.
“The position of the Ministry of Health is that strikes by healthcare workers jeopardise the lives of citizens, especially at such times of global health emergencies as now.
“Nigeria needs the service of all our health workers to control the spread of COVID-19. Issues around allowances are multi-sectoral and have always been saved with negotiations no matter how long it took.”
The minister’s plea comes hours after JOHESU President, Dr. Biobelomoye Josiah, asked the federal government to attend to its demands with the same seriousness is attached to those of the National Association of Resident Doctors.
The residents’ doctors, under NARD, also downed tools last week but called it off days after coming to an agreement with federal government representatives.
JOHESU President, Dr. Biobelomoye Josiah, made the remarks in an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily as its members commenced a nationwide strike on Monday.
JOHESU, which is the umbrella body of health workers’ unions and associations in the country, said its demanded merited such urgent attention, too.
“We gave a 15-day notice that was to expire by Sunday, midnight,” Josiah said. “They reached out to us on Thursday. They waited until Thursday.
“When we went into the discussions, rather than go in with open minds, they started with intimidation. They threatened us, and at the end of the day, they followed up with insincerity, gross insincerity and dishonesty on their part of discussions.
“We took it back to our NEC. And the expanded NEC reviewed everything and found out that there was nothing tangible.”
The JOHESU chief said one of its demands include the correction of COVID-19 allowances being paid to its members.
“They are still paying the faulty 10 percent to our members, when the agreement said they should be paying 50 percent,” he said. “Paragraph 1a of the agreement was explicit – whoever was earning N5,000, replace that N5,000 with 50 percent of COVID allowance.”
Other than the COVID allowance, Josiah added that its members have been punished for previous strikes actions with the implementation of the federal government’s ‘no work, no pay’.
“JOHESU has been peaceful for two years,” he said. “We waited for them to solve all these problems and they refused.
“Even court judgement has said they should implement in four weeks. This judgement was passed in March 2019. And we waited patiently and they decided that our patience is foolishness, our patriotism is stupidity.
“So JOHESU members have decided that even if it is going to be their death, they would rather be off again, because the caregiver must be alive to also give his care.”
What The JOHESU President Said?
Dr. Josiah was in combative mood on Monday during his interview. He lamented the poor attention the union has received from federal government representatives and vowed that union leaders were ready to go to prison for their stand.
“When there is gross bias exhibited . . . others have gone on strike during the climax of COVID in this country,” he said. “They never say they have apprehended any strike, they discussed and then they gave six over eight. We reduced our demands from over 15 to five; and then we said okay, just give three. And they are still playing games with it.
“On the first of July, we agreed with them to correct this COVID-19 allowances, they refused to correct it, and then our consolidated salary adjustment, which they entered that agreement in 2017, to be implemented in five weeks; and today, it’s three years now. Have they done it? No.
“If conciliation fails, what next? If conciliation comes with dishonesty, what next? If a conciliator is biased, what next? We have given a 15-day ultimatum and the legal books they are referring to, says for those in essential services, that you must give 15 days before you withdraw services. And that is exactly what we have done. And within the 15 days,
“They threatened us with no work, no pay, with court orders. JOHESU leaders are ready to be in prison. I think the courts are not stupid.
“Some of the reasons we went on strike for in 2018, structural decay, the management of the system, was to make the system better for Nigerians. And they punished us for that. So it’s not just because of our allowances. We are in a family; we make up 95 percent of the family.”
Ready for Dialogue
The JOHESU President, however, said its members were ready for dialogue.
“But the dialogue must be serious,” he said.
“We sympathise with Nigerians. But they also should bear with us. We have been patient for two years.
“Now they say they’ve released money, but it’s still the old amount, meaning they are not ready to correct what they agreed to correct.”
On Friday in Abuja, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, had asked the union to shelve its planned industrial action.
Ngige argued that the Federal Government has the powers to sanction union over behaviour he described as “off the line.”
“As part of the government, we have our own powers to sanction unions. We told them yesterday we have our powers. It is here, the powers of the President and the Minister of Labour to sanction unions,” Ngige said while displaying the Labour Laws.
-Channels TV with Optimum Times additional reports